Oregon’s most diverse winegrowing region has been 200 million years in the making. Two-thirds of the wine made in Oregon is grown and bottled in a geologically rich area, nourished by a delicate balance of rain and sun: the Willamette Valley.
More than 700 wineries call the seemingly magical Willamette Valley home, which stretches 150 miles between Eugene and Portland, loosely following the Willamette River and holding the state capital of Salem. One winery with a particularly rich history in the Willamette is owned and operated by the Brooks family.
Portland native Jimi Brooks lived in the Beaujolais region of France after college to learn the intricate art of winemaking. Upon his return to the states, it was Jimi’s dream to open a winery that represented his own commitments to both land stewardship and excellent wine.
Although Jimi passed in 2004 shortly after establishing Brooks Winery in 1998, the winery serves as his living legacy. The Brooks community banded together in the wake of this tragedy and continues to produce sustainable wine in Jimi’s signature style. Jimi’s sister, Janie, spoke with us on the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast about how she led the charge to make Brooks the first winery to become a B Corporation, Certified Biodynamic, and a member of 1% For the Planet in order to honor his memory.
If you want to catch our Grow Ensemble Founders, Cory & Annie, tasting some of Brooks’ flagship varietals and learn more about Brooks winemaking practices watch the video below:
Oregon Wine & Understanding The Best Oregon Wineries
When you think about wine country in the United States, you might think of the Napa Valley or Sonoma in California. But, neighboring Oregon has risen to international fame in the wine industry because of its ability to produce rich and robust pinot noir.
So what makes a winery ‘the best’? We think it all boils down to these key components: how the land is treated, how the stakeholders are treated, and how superb the final product is. Brooks is three out of three, especially with their commitment to building a community in the Willamette Valley around Biodynamic farming practices.
Oregon Wineries: Why Oregon?
Settlers in the 1840s recognized the unparalleled fertility of the valley and started to grow wine grapes. However, it took some time for the industry to recover after prohibition and the state didn’t return to winegrowing again until the 1960s.
Oregon has a unique climate that creates a particularly nourishing environment for wine growing. The state’s optimal positioning gives the grapes an abundance of sunlight, while the cool nights allow them to retain their acidity. For these reasons, nearly all grape varieties thrive naturally in Oregon, requiring minimal intervention to deliver their fresh flavors. The favorable environment lends itself to biodynamic and regenerative agriculture, which ensures the revitalization of the land and works to mitigate climate change.
Wineries in Oregon are decorated with various certifications that ensure their authenticity to the land. LIVE certifies sustainable vineyards while Salmon Safe prioritizes water quality as it relates to agriculture. While these are both specific to the Pacific Northwest, Oregon is no stranger to national certifications like Demeter Biodynamic and USDA Organic.
Stewardship of the land goes hand in hand with social responsibility. Indeed, Oregon has eight Certified B Corporation Wineries in operation, which is more than Washington and California combined. These wineries meet the most rigorous standards for socially conscious and environmentally friendly businesses.
Willamette Valley Wineries
The Willamette Valley was once advertised as “the land of milk and honey” because of it’s fruitfulness. Early pioneers of wine in the valley focused on grapes traditionally grown in the Burgundy region of France, with a preference for pinot noir since the cooler climate allowed this varietal in particular to prosper.
After David Lett, founder of Eyrie Vineyards, started growing pinot in the Willamette Valley in 1965, it became increasingly well-known for its perfect growing conditions and became an established American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983. Now, there are seven AVAs within Willamette. Overall, the climate of the valley is mild with cool wet winters and warm dry summers, making it perfect for all cool climate grapes like pinots.
Beyond the perfect climate, the three mountain ranges, including the mighty Cascades, protect the Willamette Valley’s extensive agricultural land. The soils of the valley are rich and complex, each a distinct derivative from a geologically significant event in history. Three soils reign supreme: marine sedimentary, volcanic basalt, and windblown loess. The history of each soil type is captured by each bottle of wine originating in the area. This concept is paramount to the process at Brooks and informs how they choose to get their wine from ground to grape to glass.
What Are The Best Oregon Wines?
You simply can’t leave the state without sampling an Oregon pinot noir. Undoubtedly, pinot is one of the most expressive of the land it was cultivated on. Jimi’s vision for Brooks in the early days of the winery centered on this concept. To get a sense of the way placemaking contributes to pinot, try the Terroir Trio by Brooks. Each pinot comes from grapes grown in a different soil type in the Willamette Valley. The trio serves as wonderful insight into the practices that separates Brooks from other wineries.
Pinot might be king in Oregon, but riesling isn’t far behind. There’s a reason that Brooks makes more than 20 rieslings. Like pinot, this white wine is a representation of the land it occupies. Its depth of flavor, sweetness, and flexibility make it an excellent wine to experiment with and dare we say, Brooks was doing it before it was hip!
Each bottle of riesling amplifies the terroir, which makes the quality of the land and soil conditions crucial. This is one of the reasons that founder Jimi Brooks was so keen on farming responsibly: it simply makes the wine better.
Brooks makes more rieslings than any other vineyard in America. You can’t go wrong, but this 2018 Brooks Estate Riesling is the crème de la crème in our book. The result of an extended ripening season, this riesling is vibrant and serves as a true expression of the cool autumn that nourished the grapes in your glass.
The Best Winery in Oregon
The best winery in Oregon has high standards not only for quality, but also stewardship and community. Brooks Wine sees the connection between the soil, the grapes, and the hands that work to get the wine to your table, truly elevating all parts of wine production. They go above and beyond in the field, in the fermentation room, and in their distribution to achieve high-set goals in sustainability, social responsibility, and taste and operate thoroughly as a regenerative business.
Instead of using harmful chemicals that decimate the healthy components of the soil, Brooks adjusts soil fertility and uses biodynamic pest management systems that don’t rely on pesticides or artificial fertilizers. As Janie mentions on this podcast episode, labeling laws for wine are a bit “wonky” varying from state to state, and many farmers outside of the organic movement rely on dangerous chemicals to grow their grapes…which eventually end up in our glasses.
Their commitment to Biodynamic, organic farming runs deeply. Brooks is committed to donating 1% of their revenue to Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit focused on spreading awareness on the future of agriculture, while also being a vital part of the B Corp community in Oregon. With all that on the table, there’s no denying that they’re the best winery in Oregon, in every sense!
Brooks Winery: Rooted In Family Tradition & Ethical Practices
For more than two decades, Brooks Winery in Amity has been committed to growing, farming, and bottling exceptional wine with as little human intervention as possible through biodynamic farming techniques. This family owned and operated vineyard is Demeter-Certified Biodynamic, a Certified B Corporation, and a 1% For the Planet Member. It is the only estate vineyard in the world to adhere to these rigorous standards in both business and farming.
Situated in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, placemaking is integral to how Brooks approaches each growing season. Brooks farms to mitigate climate change and produce award-winning wine by working with the land, the soil, and even the waxing and waning of the moon. In other words, Brooks Wine is truly at one with the Willamette Valley. Brooks specializes in pinot and riesling, using each bottle as an opportunity to express the particular richness of the grapes.
Embedded within the Brooks philosophy is a sense of community, which they’re forging even through uncertain times. In addition to hosting tasting experiences virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooks has also joined forces with local Portland businesses to host virtual webinars to connect with their community and promote local business.
Janie Brooks Heuck, Managing Director of Brooks Winery
In 2004, Janie received a call at her home in California. Her brother Jimi, had unexpectedly passed away, leaving Brooks Winery to his 8 year old son, Pascal. Immediately, Janie stepped up, alongside Jimi’s extended and dedicated community, to organize the upcoming harvest and secure the future of his life’s work.
Since 2004, Janie has been an integral piece of Brooks’ success. She spearheaded their certification process to become a B Corp and led the charge on their Demeter Biodynamic Certification and 1% For the Planet Membership. Janie sees value in each certification for the consumer, the community, and for Brooks as an employer.
“I think that for the consumer it’s important [to be certified]. Because otherwise how does the consumer really know what you’re doing and how do you communicate to the consumer what you’re doing? I think that there’s a lot of power in that messaging.”
Certified B Corp Wineries in Oregon
Janie shared in this episode that the winemaking industry is extraordinarily collaborative in the Willamette Valley. She’s enjoyed using their experiences at Brooks to share the benefits of their operations with neighbors and friends as they all strive to set a high standard for Oregon wine.
Whether you’re a wine enthusiast, wine spectator, or a novice, test out a tasting flight at one (or all!) of these other incredible vineyards in Oregon wine country.
- Sokol Blosser: This vineyard located in the Dundee Hills AVA is run by second generation winemakers. In 1978, they opened the very first Oregon tasting room in Dayton and became the first winery to be Salmon Safe Certified in 1996. Sokol’s long history in Oregon is also rooted in sustainability, as proven through their many certifications and land use practices.
- Winderlea: A fellow certificate holder in both biodynamic farming and B Corp, Winderlea specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay. A deep love for pinot noir pushed the founders to move from Boston to Oregon in 2006 and start this boutique vineyard. Winderlea uses ethical growing standards to responsibly cultivate the land.
- Chehalem: Another well decorated vineyard in the Willamette, Chehalem believes in transparency at every step of the process. At its core, Chehalem seeks to follow the example set decades ago by Native Americans: to treat the land with care and ensure a sustainable future for all. Sitting just near the Chehalem Mountains, this winery has an approach to placemaking that makes each glass of wine a distinct reflection of the land it comes from.
Closing: Oregon Wineries Have It All
Vitners all across the state are keenly aware of the distinctive elements that make their world class wines special, especially the Willamette Valley pinot noir. In seeking transparency, accountability, and stewardship, wineries like Brooks have secured a future for Oregon wine by treating the land, their people, and the craft itself with respect.
Whether you’re a fan of sparkling wine, pinot noir, riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris, cabernet, or syrah, you’ll find an excellent glass in one of Oregon’s many astounding vineyards. But none outshine Brooks’ taste, quality, and dedication to stewardship and family. You certainly don’t have to sacrifice excellence when being a conscious consumer and opting for Brooks.
In many ways, the Willamette Valley is a testament to this way of life and work, as more and more wineries follow suit and use practices that create better wines and protect the land we leave to future generations.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Brooks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube
- Brooks Wine Club
- Brooks Virtual Wine Tasting
- American Wine Story
- Kiss the Ground and the Kiss the Ground documentary
- The Biggest Little Farm
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.